November 25, 2010 (Thursday) – Part II
I decided to try my luck and walk towards Calle Real. It seemed near enough from the map from Robinsons Iloilo. I was almost there when I noticed that there were policemen everywhere and some of the roads were closed. I thought to myself that it was a good thing since I can walk in the middle of a big road. At first, I thought road closing must be a normal thing in Iloilo. I seemed to be the only one doing that and they were letting me do my thing. I could have blended in except for my heavy backpack and the camera clicking continuously. There was definitely something going on in the middle of the intersection near a monument ahead. Tents were set up and fatigue-clad suited men and women came into view. Hopefully, I thought, Iloilo was not a military territory.
The Cause of the Celebration
There was no mistake; I had arrived at the Iloilo version of Chinatown. The men and women in fatigues were actually Chinese high school cadets. Then I saw Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Chinese and Filipino Friendship Arch on the flyer they handed me.
I was moved by the speeches of city officials working hand-in-hand for a brighter Iloilo despite of the differences in their ethnicity and origins.
The common tale of how the early Chinese people came to the Philippines, assimilated and intermarried with the locals became a cause for more cooperation and mutual understanding between the two cultures.
They all stressed that the Iloilo of today could prosper more and can still honor their ancestors without the racial divide. I felt proud for the Philippines.
Blueprints encased in a time capsule were lowered down into the hole in the ground where the Arch will stand.
There were Chinese articles, symbols of their wishes for the future of Iloilo's Chinatown, that were also offered - knowledge (book, Gems of the Chinese Language), wishes for the blooming of tourism in Chinatown (Dagoy figurine and paraw), lifelong health and vitality (noodles), abundance (rice), food and business of Iloilo (salt), sweetness, teamwork and cooperation (sugar), industriousness of Chinatown (honey), good life and family (rose wine aged for 8 years), better health and healing (ginger), selling and merchandising (coins), unity, oneness, thriftiness and frugality (comb), fuel of excitement and life to Chinatown and hopes of no more brownouts (coal).
These modern relics will be unearthed by the next generation of Ilonggos and the Arch will serve as an entrance to the next old tourist attraction in Iloilo – they are planning to rehabilitate the glory of Iznart Street and Calle Real.
I hope I can live to see the day when these streets become alive to music, arts and history, if that’s the plan. I was happy to be a part of this celebration (and be that close to the action).
Future visitors can only see the result after the arch is built. This story here was the start and intentions of that Arch. I witnessed a crucial moment in Iloilo history and was moved by the desire of Ilonggos and people of influence and authority to strive for nothing else but a better Iloilo.
By sheer chance, I met a friend I knew from Manila who was from Iloilo from the ceremony. We would meet later again in this trip.
A dragon dance marked the end of the groundbreaking ceremony.
The Discovery Continues
I heard that our national hero Jose Rizal walked the streets of Calle Real (JM Basa Street) once from Dapitan and bought a hat in this bustling street.
Faint traces of unique colonial architecture can still be seen in this part of Downtown Iloilo.
I was imagining people of long ago clad in suits and hats walking along the old Iznart and Calle Real. Today, Calle Real seemed to be full of wholesale stores selling different kinds of wares.
The buildings looked a little unstable and ancient.
I wondered if anyone was still living upstairs. They said some old Chinese people still did.
I wanted to see the city official’s vision for these streets in action right away. Restoring the former glory of these streets would take a lot of work.
Chicken Experience # 2
Looking for the Giant Pao in Chinatown
I was eager to eat the infamous Queen Siopao of Iloilo (P59). It was easy to spot Roberto’s although I didn’t have enough luck to even try the King Siopao (P55). I just learned that I should have come 2 days after for the Visayas Blogging Summit. It was a learning experience at least (they bring out the Queen only 3 to 4 times a month, you can have the Queen if you call 3350484 or 3371595 (Iloilo number) 2-3 days before and have a minimum of 30 orders).
I was left with the 3rd runner up, the Jumbo Siopao (P39), which had the same Chicken Pork Adobo, Egg and Chinese Sausage without the Bacon of the Queen and the Ham of the King.
The taste was unique and I couldn’t wait to try the other two I missed.
The chicken and the egg mix in the Jumbo Siopao was a great combination.
My Roberto’s experience became even more interesting when a woman sat in front of me to share the table. She said she came from another city of Iloilo and was in Iloilo City (FYI: Iloilo City is in Iloilo Province, Roberto’s is in Downtown Iloilo) for some errands like paying bills. I asked her why she ate at Roberto’s and she told me that she would always eat at Roberto’s whenever she goes to the city because it had good food aside from the siopao and it was very affordable even for its fame.
The place didn’t look like it changed much over the years. The line of people at the counter doesn’t stop even at mid-afternoon. Just in case you’re wondering, if you manage to find a seat, you can order from the waiters. When we were finished, the woman told me to pay for my snack at the counter. A jolly Chinoy cashier was in charge of the cash register.
I was both surprised and amused with his straightforwardness, humor and agility at handling the dash of customers.
He was an expert with his work, mentally computing the bill and quickly handing the change, the receipt and the orders from one customer to the next. No doubt about it, he must be “Roberta” who answers the phone too. He speaks Ilonggo and sweet Tagalog by the way, at least from my observations and that short encounter.
Exploring Iloilo in a Tricycab
Before we went our separate ways, the kind woman I met at Roberto’s had but one warning – never trust men in Iloilo – and put one new word in my mouth – tricycab (or tricicab). I decided to try both on my way down to the remaining Calle Real. A guy invited me to ride the sidecar with a bike and promised to take me to tour the remaining sights in Downtown Iloilo. I asked him how much and he just shrugged and told me that I could give him any amount after our little trip since it was near anyway.
We went to the remains of Fort San Pedro.
I figured there was really not much to see and do there except ride a tricycab back and enjoy the breeze.
I wanted to go to Muelle Loney (Iloilo’s River Wharf) next.
I was brought to a statue of the Mr. Loney.
Learn more about the story of Muelle Loney from Explore Iloilo here.
The tricycab ride was full of humps but I loved the feel of the wind on my face.
I got zero historical value though from my young guide (my fault for not doing research and just going where life takes me). I asked him to take me to SM Delgado Iloilo, which was near Ong Bun because he was telling me that there was nothing more to see. (FYI: Do not be confused. There are 3 SMs in Iloilo. SM Delgado in Downtown Iloilo has a small department store and restaurants across the street.
It was the first SM to be built outside Metro Manila. There is an SM City Manduriao Iloilo, the biggest, that is nearer to Iloilo airport - where the airport vans are located at the SM Traveler Lounge. There is another SM Jaro Iloilo and I did not go there for this trip. I think it’s mainly a supermarket.)
I was supposed to give my driver P100 for the short ride and asked for change for my P200. He didn’t give me back any change declaring that he biked a long distance for me. I got another learning. Maybe I should have taken a taxi instead. (This was the most expensive land transportation cost I spent in Iloilo.)
I Was Almost Done With Iloilo
Things just started to plummet from that tricycab ride to SM to my unsettling feeling for Ong Bun. I wanted to go home and figured I already saw everything there was in Iloilo. Most of all, it was getting late and I had to get out of Ong Bun quick or else I would never go back to Iloilo again. The day started out so great and I was having, probably, a panic attack. I called some hotels and decided to walk to Residence Hotel from SM Delgado just to calm myself before it gets really dark. I took one look at the place, especially this sight of the river, and decided to forego my budget adventurist mindset that got me to reserving that P150 room. I preferred the quiet side of Iloilo near the river than the bustling downtown.
My room rate at Residence was P680 a night for a twin room (if only I had a roommate, I would say that the room was worth it and affordable). Second in my list was Highway21 for the rate (P750). I reached Residence Hotel first from SM Delgado.
Thanks to the helpfulness and hospitality of the staff at Residence Hotel, I was convinced to go back to Ong Bun via jeepney to check out and get my things. I wanted to take a taxi back because my bag and backpack, together, were kind of heavy. I had one problem though, there were no taxis anywhere. I decided to go to Robinsons since they probably have a taxi stand there and grabbed a quick bite at Jollibee (I really wanted to go home and I was looking for a familiar face even if it was Jollibee) while lugging all my things with me. It actually took me around an hour to get a taxi. It was by sheer luck that somebody went to Robinsons at a taxi at night. By the end of the night, I knew the answer to my question. There were not a lot of taxis, especially at night, because there was a gang going around killing taxi drivers in Iloilo. I kept my door closed and slept thinking that I still had 5 more days of this ahead.
Land of My Many Firsts
I didn’t tell this part of the story to scare people. Iloilo was endearing because I learned a lot from this trip (maybe you can too). I realized after the trip that Iloilo was the land of my many firsts. So far, it was the first time I let myself eat chicken so many times a day. It was the first time I felt proud of Filipino-Chinese relations. It was the first time I ate a siopao that tasted different. It was the first time I rode a tricycab. Most of all, it was the first time I ever traveled alone in my own country. I will add to this list as the story goes on.